Selling Good Men to the Night; Musings on the Discworld Novel, Night Watch
Book title: Night Watch
Author: Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE
Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE (1948-2015) was delivered to eternal repose by family and close friends in a private ceremony a few days ago.
Fans would like to think that he was collected by a certain Anthromorphic Personification of skeletal figure atop a pale and magnificent horse (named Binky). He would be remembered for his many literary achievements (he might deny this allegation, but he took it out of his power to object by leaving us early to avoid the rush).
He left us with a generous unseen estate called Discworld, a flatdisk shaped planet, boarded on top of four giant elephants, riding on top of a giant turtle-the Great A’Tuin. Four decades and 40 novels later, Discworld continues to wade into the universe surviving many catastrophes such as racism, injustice, gender inequality, blind faith, wars, extinction via historical meddling, quantum anomalies or whatever new troubles the wizards at Unseen University are currently brewing.
But whatever challenge it is, Discworld’s inhabitants triumph, because Sir Terry Pratchett would not suffer hopelessness to infest his creation. There is redemption for everyone, even in Death.
If there is an episode in all of Discworld that would remind me of Sir Terry Pratchett’s deep hope for humanity, and I think very suited to the moods of our time, it was in Night Watch, the 27th Discworld novel published in 2002.
It was Sam Vimes’ dark night of the soul. After a glitch in the fabric of time and space, he was transported back to a past where the system don’t work for the people, where a few good men can die like flies. The elite squabble for power, and the shadows and whispers of revolution lurk in the streets of Ankh-Morpork.
A hopeless era where there is no justice.
In one of the most poignant moments in the book, Sam Vimes, was his plain old copper self. Not Commander, not Duke of Ankh, not an expectant father, not husband, just himself holding a relic of his future, faced with an impossible choice. He can change things now, in this past. He has the power and wisdom to prevent the death of his men. But that would mean he will lose his future, where he was successful, where he has a son.
“ He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew…then it was too high.
There was no universe, anywhere, where Sam Vimes would give in on this, because if he did then he wouldn’t be Sam Vimes anymore.
The writing stayed on the silver but it was blurred now because of the tears welling up.”
Those words make me pause sometimes. The books of history memorialized the names of men who came and conquered. We remember their tales and build mythologies around them. But we forget those unremarkable fellows who was also there but didn’t want to. Sam Vimes is willing to relinquish all his honors, his own mythology, his own history so he could do those few men justice.
“THERE IS NO JUSTICE, JUST ME,” Terry Pratchett’s Grim Reaper used to say.
There may be no justice in Discworld even in our world, but there is always hope, and we cling to that until we tremble at the thought of it.
And I would remember the man, whom we have memorialized, created an elaborate myth around, the writer we look up to, and say: That man is a great man not because of his achievements but because he reminded us that we can be saved.
Sir Terry Pratchett continues to fight the disease that took him (early on-set Alzheimer’s). His contribution into public awareness of the disease has increased public donations to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.
Who knows how many lives he will save in the future?